Doris Smith and Vanessa Gibson

Recorded January 13, 2007 Archived January 13, 2007 00:00 minutes
Audio not available

Interview ID: MBX002168


Vanessa Gibson interviews her mother, Doris, about her life growing up and intergration in Mississippi.


  • Doris Smith
  • Vanessa Gibson


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00:00 Okay.

00:09 Okay, Vanessa Gibson 45 years old. Today's date is January 13th 2006 in Jackson, Mississippi, and I'm interviewing my mother.

00:23 My name is Doris Smith, and I'm 65 years old. Today is January 13th, 2007. I mean, Jackson, Mississippi.

00:35 And I am being interviewed by my daughter Vanessa Gibson. That's right. It is January to the first question. I want to ask you is I want you to talk about

00:54 How why is it that whenever I meet people in Moss Point and of course being born in Moss Point, you know, we all have a habit of asking people who who are your folks some who are your people and inevitably if we keep talking their people end up coming from Monroeville, Alabama, so I want you to talk about what that link is from, Monroeville to Moss Point.

01:21 I was born in March of 1941 in Monroeville, Alabama and that same year where wall 2 broke out after.

01:34 United States declared war on Japan

01:37 It came job openings in the city of Moss Point and of Pascagoula, Mississippi.

01:45 The reason is that there were two big Industries liar, the International Paper Mill and Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation.

01:56 There were many many jobs left vacant because all the able-bodied men will call to war there was a shortage of parts and ships that needed to be filled the jobs needed to be filled to to supply these parts and the people in Monroeville, Alabama and in Monroe County particularly heard about these jobs. And in order to feed the families, they moved to Moss Point, Mississippi and to Pascagoula Mississippi because of the job that will open their the city of Monroeville is was just a little rural farming town and there was not many jobs there whenever

02:45 Someone would move to that area.

02:48 They would then send back for their relatives to come and work. And of course this trend even is extended to till today. My mother had a sister and her husband who moved to Moss Point, Mississippi and her husband went to work at the International Paper Company.

03:09 Was that okay John or Uncle Scott? That was Uncle Roy Cunningham. But as you know him Uncle Boo as Vanessa likes to call him when she was just a small baby. He would take care of her sometimes and she like to call him Boutte.

03:25 But they lived in Moss Point and doing that time. There was a housing shortage. My understanding is that there were Mill houses for people who didn't have a place to live in Moss Point but my aunt and uncle lived in a house. That was the church parsonage doubt. Those are the places that I remember coming to when I would come down during the summer and my mother would let us come and stay with my aunt Viola and my uncle bud. So the house there on Ely Street was the parsonage known there was a house. That was a joining the lot where First Baptist Church is now the church building was not the same as it is now. It was a wood structures Church.

04:16 And the house was right beside it. Well, the minister of that church was also my hometown minister in Monroeville, and he would come down every first and third Sunday and preach at the church in Moss Point from Morning Star from money. So is the founding of First Baptist Church in Moss Point on Main Street directly tied to those people who came from the from Monroeville know that church existed before Evan Smith moved to Moss Point to to Pastor that church. Okay, they would have to Sunday's service there and then he would Pastor to Sunday services in

04:59 Monrovia High School a c he also was directly related to members. All that congregation is the reason why he was called to come down later. Okay, and then reaches a natural connection connection there because he had been my on all us Pastor my pastor my mom's Pastor stood to reason that he would say to her.

05:29 You can come and stay in the past and it's because I only live there for two weeks out of the out of the month and she and Uncle Bud went there to keep the parsonage up and to fix meals for him whenever he was in town. Now. I remember playing down on tram road down with the Fagan's the Watson because they all live right there. I was very rule in those days. No pay streets. No street lights.

06:01 But we would come every summer and all of you you and your sister and your two brother all four of us. Okay, my mom's children would come every summer and stay with them to get my mom a break because my father had died when I was 23 years old and Mom needed needed a break so we would come and spend one more. Sometimes we stayed as long as two months and play with the children in the neighborhood until they bought them a home on Easy Street, and then they moved into that home and I think it was doing the time perhaps when they were getting ready to build a new structure. They are on the church Graham. They built a brand new church.

06:50 But it became a it's a joke, but it's the truth everybody that came from Monroeville always got a job either International Paper Company or tingles because the word spread that those people from Monroeville when they come down here, they're hard-working people and they will work and they will do a good job. So it's sort of became a little stressful with the Monroe people in the most point in Pascagoula people because they were getting the job and they would say oh, yeah that person's for Monroe. And so no one who came down was denied a job from what I've been told my father back in. I want to say probably about 42

07:41 Came down to work for a while. That's how long you know is like a year after I was born and so he was a minister by trade. So what was he came to do when he came to Moss Point he came to work at the shipyard and I am not clear as to what he did but there were so many jobs opening that open that they needed people with skills and unskilled talents. So I'm not sure what he did but he came down for a time and work because my mom told us about traveling back and forth on the train. She would bring put us all on the train and come down and spend a week or two and that's when they had just recently built, Village and she talked about saying it and then call the Village for a while and then they would come back she would come back with the children and then my father eventually

08:38 I I think that was about the time that he got a teaching job. And so then he didn't come down to that area to work any longer. He talks school and he was a minister and I never knew he taught. Yes, he taught school in Fight to my older sister and my brother were students of his he took them to this one-room schoolhouse we talked and they got to start school a little earlier than we did that you bring up Carver Village because they just tore it down this week and I drove by there and it was really it was you know, it was sad, but it was good because it would become so dilapidated and it was such a crime in that area that I'm kind of glad it's gone. But at the same time it's a part of history is also gone and solute and as I went down Live Oak, I look to the right at the VFW.

09:38 And I haven't seen any of that area since the storm hit and the other Philadelphia is just in Ruins. They didn't try to fix it or anything. I mean the doors are hanging off the roof is caved in and it's just that whole error of you know, all of the Mardi Gras balls and all the things that we remember growing up all that's just come over and that whole Community is about to just be not completely down to the ground and something new is going to replace it something that would benefit the entire Community. I'm sure but it is a part of of my history that you know, he's going to be gone as well. When will the Gulf Coast of Mississippi will never look the same ever again and that area of Pascagoula Mississippi is has been affected equally I can remember playing down there as a child my uncle's daughter daughter and

10:37 Children live there in the village who was not crime-infested at the time. It's just nice place to live in the apartments that were suitable for, you know, any group of people to live in and they built them during the time of this influx of people from outside the state to come to work. Yes, they built them doing the war during the war when the war effort to 1941. They will be able to perhaps about 4243 because they said in the paper that they were 67 years old. And so that would be about right. Well, I find it interesting as you talk that you know, Uncle Boo and Uncle John and some other people who came from Monroeville to Moss Point looking for work and find it and you know being considered good workers. They did well and I remember growing up how and I always admired them because they were just good people and good men, but they were landowners they were

11:37 Homeowners and I remember that Uncle Boo has several homes that he rented because I would often get in the back of the truck and he ride me all around. It was a Jackson Avenue Jackson Avenue, and he collect his Rants and we go to the candy store and I'll just get stuff and as I look back on that are on that time, you know, they came looking for a better way of life. And I and I and I have this conversation with my boss. All the time is you know, what in the world happened in aisle two generations later. You don't see the same level of learning from people wanting to find those jobs and have that landed and have their own in a choir and I'm just wondering from from your perspective. What do you think happened? What where is the disconnect?

12:36 Well, I am not sure what the disconnect is. I can only speculate but the people who were the the locals who who lived here already. We're not as I don't know for lack of a better word, but they would not as studious as the people who moved in and they owned maybe maybe the the property that they lived only owned it there were so many people even out of town is who we living in those milk orders and they did not get out of them until finally they told him that and and then they had to go and find all the places to live. But the people who were moving in here from Monroeville. We're the ones who are buying up land Building nice homes and just becoming me know real hormone is so it's kind of like everyone in Moss Point Pascagoula now,

13:32 Especially in the black community or people who came from other area especially for Monroeville or they are the surrounding areas exactly and because I don't know where the breakdown came exactly except that people just just did not want to want to do any better with the Monroeville people were people who came and worked and sent their children off to colleges and some of them came back and took part to part in a community while people who have been living there all the time never did any better.

14:14 But this crime, you know that his comment to a community is named and and is just change things so much. It's it's ironic to to think about how the the willingness to work and the unwillingness now to work has just changed so that you know, I don't know whether a family now don't have the strong religious background that we had back then because we all went to church all the time. We all play together. We all walking down the street together and I can remember when you were born or I might just back up a minute and say that I had left here.

15:04 Gone to college and met a guy that I knew.

15:09 Who is here married him?

15:13 You are the product of that marriage and then

15:20 Cuz he he already was established year as he was born here in Moss Point in my storm. Yes, his his family or for Monroeville and they were living here already. They own the home on the same street that my own hours house was on. I don't know Daddy's people were from Monroeville. Yes, big mama was from Monroe. She was from New Orleans. It was actually born in Monroe New Deal When the Children loureiro small. Did you know him growing up? Oh, yeah. I thought you came down here to visit in the Summers met him and that's how y'all

15:57 Teletubby actually, you know him beforehand. Yes. I knew him we played together as children because Big Momma's House is always where it is now and then my own our lives in the parsonage, which was just right behind and so as as little children, we always knew them and then when she moved to Ely Street, we were on the same streets. Our families were already connected and then he went away to the Army and I graduated from high school and then we connected again and then I went off to college and then came here married him raise my children here.

16:38 And now you've been away and your back so it's sort of like we have a saying that to come to the Gulf Coast in your drink that water you'll never believe what you know, I haven't been gone for so long. I was away for about 18 years and then I came back and I remember when I got back and I was looking forward to raising my children where I would ride been raised and raising them in the way that I had been raised. You know, I had to kind of Catch My Breath when I finally realized that what I came back to was not what I left and the community that I was looking for and the you know, the playing in the streets like we did when we were kids up and down tram Road and and well by you and Railroad and and even walking up and down the railroad track. These are things that my kids will never experience because it's just a different time and a different era people are dead.

17:38 Printme absolute and the people who protected us as kids and looked after us and you know, make sure that even though I was two blocks away, you know, I was okay and you and no one worried about me my kids don't get to leave the yard pretty much without me knowing you at that point time when I came back. It just wasn't the same and I was I was heartbroken really but if things change and in life changes in and they just want to experience what we experience says that we're living in it has nothing to do with, you know, your parents or anything like that is just everything is changed when you were first grade and I worked and your daddy worked so we would hang this key around your neck.

18:20 Ensure disturb, you would come home and you and very grown-up about I remember I was about 10 maybe or maybe younger you were probably younger you were much younger and and you would just let yourself in and no one ever bothered anyone or anybody. You know, what you were the neighbors were clever was afraid he would never trade in even back when we walk the streets when they were no street lights and I wouldn't dare do anything like that and I have about that walk across the Bayou you with no streetlights. Somebody was telling me that

18:56 And that was really dark to oh, yeah. Well just a little bit. I want to talk about the sixties a little bit because I've heard you talk about being a part of a city in at Burnham's drug store. So tell me a little bit about that.

19:19 I was a member of the NAACP and at that time they were under the name of Christian.

19:29 Leadership

19:32 Community project type thing because they didn't want to be known as in ASAP because because they were afraid because they would be the churches will being bombed. They were sit-ins all across the nation. And so if you were part of anything like that and there was retaliation, so we finally work with them for long enough that we got the people not to be that was your father. Now, we got people not to be so afraid. We went to the bank. We open the bank at the bank account in the name of the NAACP step at a time. We did these things at Hancock Bank is near Hancock, but it was with most point Pascagoula for the people is so afraid that if they said they were associated with any CPU know what bad things would happen to them. And so then after we got brave enough to say, okay, we want to go out.

20:32 Can you turn out and test the establishments that serve people and see if they will let us be served cuz they were all segregated.

20:44 A friend of mine

20:47 And myself were

20:49 I wanted to go and test out a couple of the

20:54 Drug stores that are laying or I mean by that then had soda fountains in them has had a full little sandwich shop in there at the time that look about the same as it does now exactly. That's exactly the same has not changed and there was another drug store on the corner of Bellevue Rexall was it don't think it was I don't think that was the name of it. But I know what you're talkin about don't want to Bellevue and Main Street and they just had a soda fountain where you could good drinks and ice cream and we went there rape drug still. That's the name of this store. We went to rape drug store and we were ordered to just saw we were told to just go in and say you don't want to be served order something and if we were refused we would just say thank you and then make notes and come on out and how to write cuz there was absolutely no one in the

21:54 Estimate the time so we sat down and stews and ordered a Coke and they said okay fine surface and we were just shocked. So then we go that night went great. So we're going down the street to burn it down to Burns & Cozy was right at the lunch hour and they were a lot of people in there and we walked in and we sat down.

22:18 And the waitress immediately came over and said we can't serve colored in here. We said what would just want hot dog, you know and she said we can serve you can serve you so we set will who's the manager we like to see him. Well, mr. Byrne was still living at the time and we went up to the he was a pharmacist. So we went up to the counter and ask him why we couldn't be served and the poor fellow was so nervous. He kept pushing his glasses on this nose because it kept sliding down. He said what we just rather not we just rather not so we kept making notes and it made him even more nervous about a week later. It will all the Lunch Counter seats out. So no one was service Out restaurant and then we you know, how we would if if we went in the store and things where maybe they didn't hire blacks in the store. We were at

23:18 You know why they didn't hire blacks and then we would come back and report everything to the meeting. We had boycotted some of the stores and until they did hire some blacks in there. So it was the very fact of boycott at that time and it was very effective way of getting things done at that time. So when does he put the bar stools back? I am not sure but maybe three years later he put the bar stools back so he didn't serve at all during that time or he's simple and then manager came on Meme Olmsted and I think it was doing his time that they put the bar stools back in and of course that's hooked everything back in. Yeah, everybody had to be served and I could not you know, but they did they just took them all out completely now tell me why do you think the other drug store just immediately gave you what you want?

24:18 I really think because no one was in there. That's my feeling. I don't know if anyone went later and then and we didn't we didn't go back later and see if they would service but because we were just the people to go in to see if we could be served and to come back and make the report which is what we did. But the funniest thing is that after I in 1968. I went to work for Morton International and it was $5 at the time and I'm about 7475. I think a lady came to work at Morton and she was switchboard operator name is Regina Belle.

25:02 And we were talking one day and that subject came up. Do you know I worked it burns during that time. I remember you. No way that I did that. I didn't remember you. I didn't put it together. She said but I worked it burns in the lunch account. She was one of the waitresses on the day that you can't even say that I went in chronic and we had a big laugh about it soon as she said I couldn't believe what happened. You know, how y'all just got turned away, but it was what they did then and they didn't want to change until we put pressure on them and then she lost her job because they took the bar still. Well, that's funny. Well what I remember and I don't know what your recollection is of this, but I remember vividly one morning you and I were in the car going down to where we're going, but we were coming out of that street that that run.

26:02 Alongside of Hancock Bank, and I remember they used to be a post office across the street on that corner and I remember a swimming pool behind the post office which is very odd to me now, but I know it was there because I saw kids jumping off of a diving board into the pool and I remember getting very excited and go Mommy. I want to go swimming and then I remember you saying but you can't go swimming there and I'll remember saying I remember turn it to you was looking at you and why you know is if that was just the most absurd thing that I never heard. My don't know how that was, maybe six or five and they've been I don't know. I just know I remember that. Yeah, you must have been about 5, and so what do you remember about that day when they always was a recreation center there and still is there and there was a swimming pool in there?

27:02 And in course in up until I see you started school about 6666 up until about 66 you could not go swimming there. Once the schools were integrated. They just closed the pool. And yes, because I remember the next time I came down there to the pool was gone. They didn't just close this. They tore it down fill it. Well, they told the whole building that right and they built a new building because then use the schools were integrated. They would have to integrate the swimming pool. So in rather than do that, they just took it away from everybody and I remember saying to a lot of my friends that my daughter won't go to the segregated schools and they just thought that was greatest thing in the house out of my mind, where she don't go to school. St. Peter's Catholic school and I said No, by the time that my daughter start school first grade schools going to be integrated because they should have been in

28:02 Is already at that point because it's the law had already been passed over but they were dragging their feet on doing it and they started in 1966 the actually started integration three or four grades at a time. I remember and I was the first class night of integration and and Ira. How is Charlotte High and absolute and I remember it because the older kids still have not integrated until a few years later and it was like they did it in ways and when they finally got to the high school there was a riot and I remember Ava Ava Williams been on the front page of the paper.

28:45 That's the preacher's daughter for First Bank remember this so well because she was my babysitter and I remember them dragging Ava out of the school and I was just a picture of Ava screaming his head the afro, and these cops were and I'm thinking

29:03 What are they doing to my babysitter, you know and in the end it was just the most Madness you've ever heard of it because the high schoolers were old enough to really understand what was going on. But at the elementary level, you know, me and my friends that both black and white. We never knew the difference unless someone told us that black kids and white kids didn't go to school together. We just started first grade and and went on and I think I was probably in the third or fourth grade before I really fully understood that this was Snoop right? I just didn't know you see that came of time about 71, I think when

29:47 You were given the choice of continuing at Magnolia High School, which is an all-black school or moving on over to the all white previously all white high school. So you could attend either school for about 2 year. Last night. So a lot of the black students who elected to go on with the most point, I would not welcome.

30:11 And they were just hold out. So to speak until they came to terms with it. This is not going to change then you know, it it got better but they did it. Like I said, I think the the law actually passed in 1964 in school should have been integrated but it took until 66 5/4. That's very interesting well.

30:39 You know, it's been an interesting time and I guess it's so I have to get this is interesting that we're doing it this weekend. It's interview because you know, it's the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday this weekend in and my kids, you know are 14 and 12 and they don't remember anything don't listen and you know, the farther we get away from those Generations the less important that time becomes to them and so much has just assumed by them so many Privileges and so many things are taken for granted and I and I try to remind them and try to get them to understand and remember but it gets harder and harder as we move away from that. Of time to get them to fully understand and comprehend anything that has to do with it at age is all they know. That's right. They don't remember when we couldn't eat in a restaurant or swim in a swimming pool. But you know, we can't let him forget. That's true.

31:39 If we do this true, you know what those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it and I am so thankful that people like you and your sister are the daughter have returned to Mississippi. I have to be in a way and getting rich occasion and that you would come back and be positive role models for your children and other children who live in that Community because so many of our people are going off and getting educated and then going to other cities and never coming back never coming back and I didn't plan to come back out. These are some of the things that I've seen in North Mississippi with people leaving because they are so disillusioned and their new jobs. So the people who go off finally make it out never come back and the people living there don't have positive role model and then they don't know that there is something beyond their own circumstances, right?

32:39 And on that note, I think I'll in the interview.